Seven states, the District of Columbia, and nine cities in California currently require firearm owners to report to law enforcement when their firearms are lost or stolen. The State of California does not.
Currently, firearms dealers and manufacturers must report any lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours, and local law enforcement must enter reports of lost or stolen firearms into the state’s Automated Property System database. However, firearm owners whose guns are lost or stolen are not required to do anything. As a result, law enforcement efforts to investigate gun crimes and disarm dangerous criminals are significantly hindered.
The public overwhelmingly supports laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms. A nationwide poll in 2011 found that 94% of Americans surveyed, including 94% of gun owners, favor laws to require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
In California, 2,972 residents died from firearm related injuries in 2009, and 3,545 others were treated for non-fatal gunshot wounds. Of the 1,811 Californians murdered in 2010, 1,257, or 69%, were killed with firearms.
Co-sponsored by the Law Center, SB 1366 (DeSaulnier) would have required every person whose firearm is lost or stolen to notify local law enforcement of the loss or theft. SB 1366 would have improved public safety in California by combating gun trafficking through the use of “straw purchasers,” keeping guns away from prohibited persons and notifying law enforcement about the presence of stolen guns. Although the bill was passed by the California Legislature in 2012, it was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.
Fighting Gun Trafficking
When a crime gun is traced by law enforcement to the last known purchaser, that person may falsely claim that the gun was lost or stolen to hide his or her involvement in the crime or in gun trafficking. A reporting requirement will provide a tool for law enforcement to detect firearms trafficking and prosecute “straw purchasers,” individuals who buy firearms on behalf of criminals who are prohibited from possessing guns.
An analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns – a nationwide coalition of over 600 mayors – found that states without mandatory lost or stolen reporting laws export two and a half times more crime guns across state lines than jurisdictions with such laws. Similarly, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that state laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms were associated with crime gun export rates that were 43% lower than in states that lacked this policy.
Getting Guns Away from Prohibited Persons
Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms would enhance the California Department of Justice’s efforts to remove firearms from convicted criminals and others identified in the state’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System database. Currently, these individuals, who own firearms but are prohibited from possessing them, may falsely claim that their illegally-possessed firearms were lost or stolen.
Notifying Law Enforcement about Missing Firearms
A reporting requirement would alert law enforcement to the existence of guns stolen by criminals in their communities. It would also make it easier for law enforcement to return lost or stolen firearms to their rightful owners. A 2007 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recommended that state and local governments mandate reporting of lost or stolen firearms. The IACP report concluded that, “law enforcement’s early awareness of every lost and stolen gun will enhance their ability to recover those guns and reduce gun violence.”